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SPORTPLANE BUILDER Tony Bingelis

I'll bet your airplane is not as fast result of anything productive and drag reduction efforts, the greater
as it could be ... and because of serves no useful purpose. In short, it the rewards.
that your fuel costs are higher than is an airborne freeloader, a parasite
they have to be. that contributes nothing to flight but Any Aircraft Can Benefit
Blame it on drag. Drag is a penalty a needlessly eroded performance.
you have to pay for the privilege of In short, all airplanes suffer from How about those speedy com-
flight. However, why pay the full price it. This is because parasite drag is posites? Sure, we know that even
when you can get a discount. Let's produced by most any surface or the slickest high powered composite
look into this idea a bit further. object protruding from the surface can be made to be imperceptibly
As most of you know, one kind of of the airplane that interferes with faster by further reducing its para-
drag results from the work being the smooth flow of the slipstream. site drag. Otherwise, what other
done by the wing to sustain flight. It It is reasonable to assume, there- explanation could there be for two
is called induced drag and, like it or fore, that by reducing parasite drag like aircraft differing considerably in
not, it is a fair price paid in exchange wherever you can, you will enjoy the performance?
for the lift produced by the wing . . . benefits of reduced fuel expendi- However, the aircraft most likely
after all, it does play a part in keep- tures and an ego enhancing increase to benefit from a drag reduction ef-
ing us airborne. in airspeed ... however infinitesimal fort is the typical "plain Jane"
There is another kind of drag that may be. variety. These aircraft have modest
known as parasite drag. It is not the Obviously, the more effective your cruise speeds ranging between 100
mph and, let's say, 150 mph.
What about light aircraft and ul-
tralight aircraft? Well, these are
obviously designed to operate effi-
ciently on a minimum of horsepower.
They fly slow and low and anyone
who owns one is more concerned
with the importance of keeping the
weight down than in trying to go su-
personic by reducing parasite drag.
Unfortunately, streamlining ef-
forts usually do equate to added
weight, hence most ultralight
builders don't bother.
Nevertheless, some parasite drag
reduction can often be achieved for
these aircraft or, for that matter, for
any aircraft without adding appre-
ciable weight.
This Sonerai cowling and spinner installation is a good example of what can be Is Drag Reduction
done to reduce overall drag. Note the diminutive size of the air inlet opening. Worth The Effort?
Compare this with the photo showing a single large inlet opening.
Yes, indeed. Reducing parasite
drag is always beneficial regardless
of the aircraft's classification or
speed range.
Builders of medium powered air-
craft (85 hp to 150 hp) often fail to
take advantage of numerous drag re-
duction opportunities and settle for
modest mid-range cruise speeds of
100 mph to 140 mph. And yet, many
of these same aircraft have the po-
tential for achieving a 10% to 20%
increase in cruise. Of course, how
much depends on the basic design of
the aircraft and the skill and determi-
nation of the builder or owner.
Many of the higher powered
homebuilts (160 hp to 200 hp) are al-
ready quite fast because their
The ultimate in drag reduction for a fixed tubular landing gear. designers took advantage of certain

72 SEPTEMBER 1992
obvious drag reduction options dur- By now you may be trying to think them if you can.
ing the basic design process. of some of the drag producing ob- c. Externally Mounted Nav/Strobe
Incidentally, except for special jects you could remove from the Lights - This may not be easy be-
purpose aircraft, there is no aerody- external surfaces of your aircraft. cause when you bury the lights inside
namic reason why a one mph per hp Let me give you a hand. Here are a the wing tip, you may be reducing ar-
(or better) speed cannot be achieved. few that create drag producing tur- eas of their projected coverage. The
Naturally, the ultimate refinement bulent wakes: FAA thinks your lights should, ideally,
and speed that can be achieved al- a. Landing Gear - Removing (re- be visible from all directions.
ways rests with the amateur builder tracting) the gear would, naturally, d. Fuel Caps - Some of these pro-
. . . especially one who is not satis- involve structural changes and I cer- ject considerably above the cowl or
fied with just average performance. tainly wouldn't consider doing it wing surface.
We all know from observation that unless it was a designer offered op- e. Protruding screws, bolt heads,
most composites are molded to tion . . . but it is the biggest drag rivets, brackets.
highly contoured aerodynamic producer of them all. Incidentally, a f. Pitot/Static tube installation.
curves and are relatively free of many partially retracted gear may actually g. Temperature probe.
of the parasite drag elements found produce more drag than a well h. External handles.
in other types of construction. But streamlined fixed gear. i. Fuel vents.
these designs are not alone in aero- b. Antennas - Some homebuilts j. Control Balances - Submerging
dynamic refinement. have an external communications balance weights for control surfaces is
The metal RV's, T-18's and antenna, a navigation antenna, a a nice effective way to minimize drag.
Mustangs (I and II), in spite of their transponder antenna and a loran an- However, making it work may not be
rivets and lapped joints, are just tenna - all drag producers. Remove worth the effort. It could require a crit-
about as fast because their builders,
as a group, tend to vie with each
other in reducing or eliminating para-
site drag wherever they can.
This seems to be a good place to
spring another generalized observa-
tion. Here it is:
The faster the airplane, the more
pronounced the benefits of a reduc-
tion in parasite drag. For example,
removing an externally mounted an-
tenna from a slow J-3 Cub will, at
best, result in an imperceptible in-
crease in speed.
However, removing a similar an-
tenna from a Lancair or Glasair
would, undoubtedly, net a measur-
able increase in speed.

Four Ways To Reduce Drag

1. Remove it.
A cowling with a single large opening does not provide the optimum in engine cool-
2. Streamline it. ing or drag reduction.
3. Seal it.
4. Smooth it.
Let's explore each method in detail:
1. Remove It - Anything that is
not there cannot create drag. So, if
you can remove the object from the
surface of the aircraft you will reduce
its overall drag and increase the
cruise speed. Naturally, this will re-
sult in a corresponding reduction in
the amount of fuel required to push
the airplane through the air.
Of course, you should understand
that some of your efforts to eliminate
parasite drag by removing some
small objects from the slipstream
may yield only minuscule changes.
Many of you will say it is not worth
messing with. However, rest as-
sured, the effect of all gains is
cumulative and will be noticeably
beneficial. . . very much like the suc-
cess of the ant in piling up a large A larger spinner would reduce drag and improve the flow of air into the cowl inlets.
impressive mound . . . grain by grain. A plate installed behind the prop hub cut-out would also help smooth the flow of air.

SPORT AVIATION 73
ical structural and aerodynamic
change. Changes like that should be
cleared with the designer.
k. Steps - You could make them
retractable. Note: Drag producing
elements located within the pro-
peller slipstream are more detrimen-
tal than similar objects located
outside the slipstream.
2. Streamline It - If you can't re-
move it, streamline it by fitting it with
a fairing of some sort.
In this respect, the tubular landing
gear legs and the tail gear installa-
tion are about as dirty (drag wise) as
they come. Streamline them and
V« :.?.•• - .-. -1 you will realize a fairly large increase
in speed.
Kfc
!'A-- '*"- 'i'»%S » '•'.'
It is very important that the inter-
*• - W*> -J-jfegA ..:?.-,!.;. •••.•..-".••• .'.••.A..:'.-;:>'.*.'.^^•l&N^AV,.•>&! ference between parts be reduced
A typical tailwheel installation produces a lot of drag and looks lousy. Using a tubu- by reshaping the intersection. To do
lar strut instead of flat springs would be an improvement. I would, however, this you may have to reshape the
question the merit of enclosing tailwheels in streamline wheel pants. area by adding material (foam, wood,
fiberglass, etc.) to it. This reshaping
can be in the form of an add-on fair-
ing, or it can be one permanently
attached to the structure.
Keep in mind the need for future dis-
assembly of some parts. These should
be fitted with removable fairings.
The juncture between the landing
gear leg and wheel pants needs to
be faired as does the point of at-
tachment for a wing strut.
The junction between the wheel
pants and the landing gear leg is
another drag area requiring stream-
lining.
Exhaust pipes that jut straight
down out of the cowling are big drag
producers. Slant the pipes so they
exit the cowling more or less parallel
with the slipstream and you may
even benefit from the jet-like effect
Reducing drag on some aircraft can be a real challenge. Sometimes the improved
of the exhausts.
appearance would be more rewarding than the reduced fuel consumption increase
in cruise speed.
Cowling inlets on many aircraft
are excessively large. Reduce the
inlet openings and you will obtain an
increase in speed. Unfortunately,
you may also obtain an increase in
oil temperature. It is a delicate pro-
cess and you should approach it
with caution. Carve foam fillers to fit
the inlets and attach them with strips
of duct tape to reduce the openings
temporarily.
If your oil temperature is still in
the green, close off a bit more. Get
the idea?
On my Falco I obtained a very no-
ticeable airspeed increase along
with an uncomfortably high oil tem-
perature on my first try.
You may have to readjust the inlet
openings two or three times before
you hit on the ideal size openings for
your airplane.
Enclosed in these wheel pants are the high drag scissors and axle-to-shock-strut 3. Seal It - Every gap on the air-
intersection. Result, reduced drag and an enhanced appearance. plane is a drag producer. The most

74 SEPTEMBER 1992
common offenders include cabin
doors, canopies, oil inspection doors,
fairings and cowls. These must seal
tightly and should not suck open in
high speed flight. You might have to
get someone in a chase plane to
check your airplane for improperly
closed landing gear doors.
Control surface gaps are notori-
ous drag producers. Sealing them,
in addition to reducing drag, also en-
hances the effectiveness of the
rudder, elevator and aileron controls.
Most everyone who has ever
raced an airplane has spent much
time taping over all gaps and open-
ings with masking tape before a
race. This preparation alone can re-
sult in a faster airplane.
If ordinary masking tape is offen-
sive to your aesthetic senses you Can this be the optimum in low drag exhaust outlets?
could use colored or transparent tape
for sealing the gaps and openings.
The basic idea is to keep the in-
side air in, and the outside air out.
But, most of all, you want to keep the
air on the bottom of the wing from
leaking up through the top surfaces.
4. Smooth It - The objective is to
achieve and maintain a smooth flow
of air from the nose of the airplane to
the tail and beyond.
If your airplane is still under con-
struction, don't miss the opportunity
to get all external surfaces as
smooth as possible. Fill all dents
and imperfections before priming
the aircraft.
After your airplane is completed,
a little cosmetic smoothing is still
possible but you may be reluctant to
undertake it because the paint job
will be affected.
Submerged aileron balance weights create no drag at all. The fiberglass wing tip
Wing walks as large and as coarse has been removed to show one way aileron balance can be achieved.
as they are will destroy the laminar
flow in that area and produce turbu-
lence and drag. This is because the
surface texture of the wing walks is
larger than the aircraft's boundary
layer. The boundary layer next to the
surface skin is extremely shallow ...
something on the order of 1/1000 of an
inch for average lightplane speeds.
You can make your wing walks
smaller or install them in narrow
strips rather than as a single large
carpet-like mat.

Other Drag Reduction Options

Installing smaller wheels or tires


and closer fitting wheel pants could
be considered. Remember, how-
ever, if you are operating from
unpaved strips, smaller wheels may
not be advisable as they would
transfer higher taxiing and landing
stresses to the structure. The most effective drag reduction efforts are those implemented while the design is
A poor job of rigging could saddle still on the drawing board - not those attempted after the airplane has been built.

SPORT AVIATION 75
on your airspeed indicator.
Others of you with a scientific
bend will not be content until each
and every drag reduction change
you make has been calibrated, flight
tested and duly documented. Lotsa
luck, amigo, this may be difficult to
do because the smaller changes will
yield almost unmeasurable results.
However, I'm sure that won't deter
the true experimenters among you.
Back in 1977 an all out drag re-
duction effort on a 150 hp Mustang II
reportedly paid off with a top speed
increase from an original 170 mph to
229.66 mph at 11,000'. This speed
was clocked during one of the
Pazmany contests conducted at
Oshkosh.
Reducing the size of the air inlets can net a significant increase in airspeed. Can you top such an astounding
However, a corresponding increase in oil temperature might limit the degree to increase over the original top speed?
which this can be carried. Above the opening you can see the foam inset temporar-
ily taped in place. After you determine the best size openings they can be molded
permanently to the cowling.

you with unnecessary drag. For ex- also affect engine cooling.
ample, if the wing/tail incidence is A wing that is painted with span-
incorrect, drag may be excessive for wise stripes will produce drag
all flight regimes. Or if the flaps are because the slipstream may burble
not properly rigged, you may be fly- across the paint line ridge left after
ing with the flaps partially deployed the masking tape was removed.
all the time. For that matter, one side Maybe you can minimize the pro-
may even be set lower than the other. truding ridge by buffing it out. Be
A mismatch between the spinner careful though, because you might
and the cowling is a common drag mess up the paint line.
producer. A spinner can be much At any rate, remember that the
too small or too large. smooth flow of air over the first top
The propeller blade cut-out be- third of the wing is the most critical
hind the prop hub should be sealed drag-wise. If you wish to contact the author
with a plate. Try to provide a clear- of this column for additional infor-
ance all around of about 1/8". Afterthoughts mation, please send a SASE to Tony
A large gap or space between the Bingelis, 8509 Greenflint Ln., Austin,
rear of the spinner and the face of the Some of you can undertake this TX 78759.
cowling could mess up the smooth business of drag reduction as a casual
flow of air and cause a turbulent entry matter and be happy with whatever in- BOOKS BY TONY
into the air inlets. This, in turn, might crease in indicated airspeed shows up The following books by Tony
Bingelis are available from the EAA
Aviation Foundation, EAA Aviation
Center, Box 3086, Oshkosh, Wl
54903-3086, 1-800/843-3612, in Wl
1-800/236-4800, in Canada
414/426-4800. Major credit cards
accepted.
-Sportplane Builders (Aircraft
Construction Methods, 320 pages) -
$19.95
-Firewall Forward (Engine
Installation Methods, 304 pages) -
$19.95.
-Sportplane Construction Tech-
niques (A Builder's Handbook, 350
pages) - $20.95.
Add $2.40 postage and handling for
each publication ordered . . . or order
all three for $52.97 plus $6.95 postage
and handling. Wisconsin residents
Sealing control surface gaps along the hinge line improves the effectiveness of the
controls and helps reduce drag. add 5% sales tax.

76 SEPTEMBER 1992